Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 11/6/11
One season ago Arian Foster was the emergent Texans tailback, a relative unknown who burst on the scene unexpectedly and prolifically. Ben Tate is playing that role splendidly this season, displaying the same longing to succeed that pushed Foster to a rushing title and Pro Bowl last year. In case Foster forgets what that hunger can yield, Tate playfully offers occasional reminders of the nature of competition. "We're both competitors," Tate said. "He (Foster) doesn't really say much, but I'll let him know that I'm always trying to come after him." Foster, whose wit is as powerful as his strides are lengthy, offered this retort: "Yeah, he can have that (chatter). That's not my style, man." The Browns weren't laughing on Sunday, not after the Texans amassed a franchise-best 261 rushing yards en route to a 30-12 victory at Reliant Stadium. For the second time this season both Foster and Tate eclipsed 100 yards rushing in the same game, teaming so effectively that the Texans have no reason to deviate from further utilizing this tandem. Foster rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown on 19 carriers. Tate chipped in 115 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Both scoring runs were dynamic, with Tate deftly eluding Browns safety Usama Young in the open field on his 27-yard dash in the first quarter before Foster capped his 19-yard burst in the second with a textbook stiff arm of Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown just prior to crossing the goal line. During their bludgeoning of the Titans two Sundays ago, Foster rushed for 115 yards and two scores while Tate added 104 yards off the bench. At this stage Foster and Tate are more complementary tailbacks than fierce competitors, but the Texans (6-3) are benefitting nonetheless. "It's fun to watch right now," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "It's almost like a competition because they just go back and forth. Arian pounds them and Ben comes in and Ben gives you a lot of speed. They're a little bit different from that standpoint. "When you've got those guys competing like that it's just making everybody else better." It took a bit of misfortune for the Texans to reap the fruits of this rotation. Tate missed his rookie season after suffering an ankle injury in the exhibition opener at Arizona last year, and then had to fight through lingering health concerns and a crowded backfield this preseason. When Foster opened this season slowed by a balky hamstring, Tate pounced. A second-round pick out of Auburn in 2010, Tate rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown in the opener against the Colts. He followed with 103 yards in a victory over the Dolphins in Miami. Through three weeks he was averaging 22 carries and 100.3 rushing yards per game. The Texans weren't quite the same offensively without Foster their red-zone proficiency suffered mightily but Tate proved more than serviceable. "Sometimes you surprise yourself, but if you're a guy with high expectations and high goals it's hard to do that because you're always grinding, you're always trying to reach that goal that you set so high," Tate said. "I haven't reached my goals yet so I'm still working, I'm still striving. I'm blessed just to be here and to have this opportunity to play again because some guys don't come back and feel a hundred percent." Foster didn't approach optimal health until Week 4, at which time he blistered the Steelers for 155 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. A week later Tate was lost to a groin injury and it took two full weeks back-to-back losses to the Raiders and Ravens before Foster and Tate were healthy and sharing reps. Tennessee was the victim of that revival. How Kubiak juggles Foster and Tate moving forward offers intrigue. Foster was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month after producing 499 rushing yards, 310 receiving yards and five touchdowns in October. His 809 yards from scrimmage were the third-most in October in NFL history, and last season Foster was third in the NFL in rushing attempts (327) while leading the league in yards (1,616) and touchdowns (16). Foster takes pride in his workhorse reputation, but there is a benefit in keeping him fresh for the latter stages of contested games by utilizing Tate liberally throughout. Last week Foster finished off the Jaguars with several bruising carries in the fourth quarter, fresh legs that were a byproduct of his missing time in September and splitting time with Tate. "Today I felt like myself for the first time this year actually, without being winded and without letting the game get to me," Foster said. "It's tough out there sometimes. When you don't go through training camp it just changes your season for you. I just felt like myself today." If Foster is just finding his stride and Tate his comfort zone, the Texans will move to the brink of something extraordinary offensively. Quarterback Matt Schaub seemed a bystander on Sunday, attempting only 23 passes while his backs pounded the Browns into submission. As brilliant as Foster was last season, the current distribution of carries might work out better. There is curiosity to see where this is heading. "It's so rare in the NFL these days to just depend on one guy through the course of 16 weeks," Schaub said. "You need to have multiple backs that can run the football, and we have that." Follow me on Twitter: @moisekapenda
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